Preview of DECEMBER

Fresh Covid-19 waves trigger lockdowns and protests across the globe

As the world gears up for the year-end, the Covid-19 pandemic is also expected to continue affecting everyday life even as many look forward to celebrating Christmas and the New Year.

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A release provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) has shown, though the curve of contagions had remained stable during summer in the northern hemisphere, infections had once again picked up in almost every continent through October and November, resulting in what has now been referred to as the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Amid the rising cases, experts have once again affirmed that the most efficient approach to contain the virus spreading is by limiting social contact, wearing face masks, sanitizing, as well as conducting tests for Covid-19.

Several countries have already begun to implement new Covid-19 restrictions. These include Argentina, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, and South Korea, among others. This is anticipated to continue through December - while it is fair to expect the pandemic situation might improve after lockdowns, restrictions are likely in case any relaxation of measures triggers a new surge of cases in countries that have adopted such an approach. With Christmas around the corner, most countries in the western hemisphere have also scrambled for ways to tame the virus in time for the occasion that usually see family members and friends coming together. The likelihood of such gatherings however remains bleak as some governments have already warned that they could be severely curtailed to avoid sparking further infections.

Sharp rise in Covid-19 infections has been reported across Europe and the Americas beginning October. (Source: World Health Organisation)

Another concern related to the pandemic is the series of anti-lockdown protests in several countries, including Argentina, the United Kingdom, and Germany. These demonstrations remain likely across Europe in countries with well-organized activist groups taking the lead. Countries whose economy has been severely affected by the pandemic also remain prone to face related unrest, that at times could turn deadly or cause major damage to properties.
Heading into December, the uncertainty regarding public policies and fresh Covid-19-associated restrictions will certainly continue to impact the travel industry as well. Low demand for traveling and government-imposed measures - frequently with short notice – mean that flight cancellation or rescheduling are always on the horizon, while the prospect of entering some countries could be a challenge due to enhanced health screenings. Though some airlines have resumed services, disruptions to air and land travel should still be expected amidst strict governmental measures.

US prepares for presidential transition following Biden’s victory

The elections in the United States have already been called by most observers worldwide. Joe Biden and the Democratic Party have swept 306 delegates and he is set to assume the 46th presidency of the most powerful nation in the world.

Although President Donald J Trump has agreed to begin the transition, his delay in conceding defeat did not only cause political repercussions but also triggered protests from both his supporters and detractors as well as instability on the stock markets. Trump’s relentless pursuit of victory had only made people wonder what his next moves will be and how the transition will pan out come 20 January next year.

Trump, even before the election, had claimed that fraud was possible during the 2020 elections and that has been his narrative since his loss on 4 November. After more than three weeks, the president still claimed that the elections were rigged on his Twitter, prompting the social networking site to flag such tweets for disputable information. His legal team has launched at least 36 lawsuits across battleground states to contest the counting of the votes or other alleged frauds. Twenty-six of the lawsuits have already been denied, dismissed or withdrawn. The contention however can be stretched until 8 December, when States must deliver their electoral counts to Congress and from there, it would still be more than a month till inauguration takes place.

During this period, the political uncertainty can lead, as it had post-election, to massive demonstrations by supporters of both political spectrums. The continuous refusal of Trump to acknowledge the election results also raises the fear of more violent response. Additionally, his adamant resistance to leave office even after disputes are legally settled had also fueled doubts among his supporters on the legitimacy of a Biden presidency thus resulting in occasional tension between communities across the country.

Markets and investors seem to have already been working with the official outcome since it was first announced. The oscillation of stock markets and dollar have been average for the post-electoral period. A lingering dispute over the results could, however, lead to a turbulent market. Even more so, if the battle goes beyond legal grounds. There is little chance that Trump’s campaign to change electoral results will work. The long-lasting financial and social impacts this battle caused however will probably outlive it. 

European countries on alert following deadly terror attacks in France and Austria

Several European countries have been placed on high alert following attacks that are linked to jihadist groups in Paris, Nice, and Vienna in late October and November. Increased vigilance has been announced by governments, including the United Kingdom, where the national threat level was raised to “severe.” The latest attacks have continued to highlight the threat of extremism as groups such as the Islamic State (IS) maintained its appeal for the jihadist cause. There have also been concerns that the attacks could trigger a backlash from far-right groups resulting in tit-for-tat attacks against the Muslim communities in the continent. Amidst the prospect of further attacks in Europe, tension has also increased in the Muslim world following remarks made by the French President Emmanuel Macron on the cartoons of the Prophet. Protests and boycotts against France were initiated in countries like Lebanon, Indonesia, Kuwait, and Pakistan, among others, further driving a wedge between both sides.

US gears up for winter storm season

The annual winter storm season is set to begin in the US in December. As with previous years, some of the strongest winter storms could be experienced throughout December as well as the early months of next year, potentially disrupting Christmas plans for many people. The 2019-2020 season was among the least active since accurate records began in 2012 though Winter Storm Ezekiel between late November and early December still managed to wreak havoc in at least 30 states stretching from the West Coast to the Plains, Midwest, as well as in the Northeast of the country.

Air pollution grips northern India as winter begins

Since early November, severe air pollution has shrouded much of the Indian capital, Delhi, as well as several other major northern cities. The deterioration of air quality is no stranger to the local populace as wintry weather that is associated with lower temperatures and higher moisture began. As pollutants got trapped in the atmosphere, air pollution levels also spiked, bringing together a multitude of challenges to the city. Many factors have been cited as the main culprits with rapid urbanization, increase in private vehicle usage, and, more recently, burning of crops by farmers who still rely on manual harvesting methods. Disruptions resulting from the poor air quality can range from flights or train services being delayed, breathing difficulties to vulnerable groups as well as the closure of schools, among others.

Ethiopia-Tigray conflict continues to instigate regional tension amid mutual aggression

Since 2019, disagreements between the regional ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the federal government have escalated to a tense point, which culminated in the current armed conflict in Tigray. On 4 November¸ Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed declared the beginning of a military offensive in Tigray after claiming the TPLF attacked a federal military base. Several clashes have then taken place between the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) and TPLF forces. Humanitarian sources claim frequent bombings have affected Mekelle and its outskirts; and over 30,000 refugees have fled to Sudan. Following the expiration of an ultimatum, the federal forces launched an assault, seizing control of the regional capital, Mekelle from the TPLF. Despite this, the TPLF remains a viable threat for Abiy’s government in the short-term, and surrender is unlikely given the party’s strong history in the region. Further escalation of the conflict remains high as remnants might shift their strategy thus threatening national stability, as well as affecting Ethiopia’s relations with Eritrea and Sudan.

December timeline

What to look out for this month:

Contributors

Chan Hoi Cheong
Senior Analyst and Office Manager Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Deborah Sheps
Analyst Sao Paolo, Brazil

Gabriela Ribeiro de Araujo
Analyst Sao Paulo, Brazil

Johan Emilsson
Senior Analyst Lund, Sweden

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